For now, the Vikings are taking a slow, measured approach to the acclimation of rookie linebacker Gerald Hodges.
After rookie minicamp and two weeks of organized team activities, veteran Marvin Mitchell continues to get most of the first-team reps ahead of Hodges and others. That could change at some point before the preseason begins, however, as the Vikings' fourth-round selection in this year's draft shows signs of being able to contribute early.
"When I first got here, things were flying really fast, but now it's where I feel real good out here. I feel real fluid, feel more comfortable. It's real familiar," Hodges said after a practice this week. "It's something I ran in college. Just more repetition the better I'll get at it."
His veteran linebackers are already encouraged by what they see.
"He's got great movement. He can move well. The speed is great," Pro Bowl linebacker Chad Greenway said. "Obviously we'll see the physical intangibles as he comes into training camp. He's a heady player. He has a mind for the game and wants to soak it up. He won't pick it all up right away, but that experience will come as he gets more reps."
Hodges said he is trying to get the Vikings' defensive system engrained as quickly as he can, but it should be an easier transition for him than it might be for a rookie linebacker from another team. Minnesota's system under defensive coordinator Alan Williams is similar to the one Hodges and fellow rookie linebacker Michael Mauti helped lead at Penn State.
"The same responsibilities. Real similar. I'm just trying to put the concepts together as best as I can," Hodges said.
"The more repetition I get at it, the quicker I'll be. I'm adjusting real well to it. The more I adjust to it, the more I'll see it and the better I'll feel at it. … The way things are looking right now, I'm getting there real, real good."
He said Greenway and Erin Henderson have been helpful, but Henderson is willing to help even more. From what Henderson has seen so far of the rookie trying to fill Henderson's previous spot on the weakside, the physical skills are there.
"He does have really good feet transitioning. You can tell he has some quickness to him. I think he'll be a good ball player," Henderson said.
"You've got to catch their attention early. Flash a little bit and show that you're capable of making plays and that you can get some things done. From there, you've just got to try to run with it. Once they give you the position or once they put you in that position, you have to make sure you do your best in order to hold onto it."
Hodges said he has been getting some work at weakside linebacker and on the strong side, as well as working in both the base defense and nickel defense.
"That's a little bit more trying to learn both positions at the same time, but that's fine. I'm accepting the challenges that coach is throwing at me and I'm going to try to continue to improve each day," he said.
He admitted that it will be hard for coaches to make a full evaluation until the Vikings don the pads at training camp and the hitting and tackling start in earnest.
Until then, he is trying to learn everything he can and let his instincts and presnap reads – two aspects he named as his strengths – guide him. It must be working because he has looked comfortable to outside observers and gotten a vote of confidence from inside observers.
"From a physical standpoint, he looks good and I think we're excited to see where he's at in camp and then how he can help us defensively," said Greenway, who is reserving judgment about Hodges' starting potential for the season opener.
"We'll see as it goes, but I don't see a reason why it wouldn't be (possible to start). Obviously there will be a lot of competition from a lot of different guys, but he'll be in the mix for sure."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Hodges catching on, defense ‘real familiar'
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